GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When Kathleen Colverson works in places like Mozambique, Tanzania and Ethiopia, she watches as women farmers rise before dawn to gather firewood and water to make breakfast for their families.
They send the older children off to school, strap their babies to their backs, and leave the 5-year-olds to watch the toddlers while the women head into the field to raise greens, corn and beans, said Colverson, associate director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ international programs – also known as IFAS Global.
At harvest time, they pick the crop, dry it and then process it – all by hand. If they are fortunate, they belong to a women’s co-op, which helps them sell their crops and any crafts they make at home by firelight after cooking dinner.
“I have tremendous admiration for women farmers because they are such strong, capable people,” said Colverson, whose work is part of UF/IFAS’ mission to help farmers throughout Florida, the U.S. and the world learn about the latest crops and growing techniques.
The United States Agency for International Development recently awarded UF/IFAS part of a $7 million grant to help extension provide better reach to African women farmers, which will contribute to higher household incomes and improved nutrition. USAID administers this and other programs, providing economic and humanitarian aid in more than 80 countries worldwide.
The project, “Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services,” aims to increase global food security and support rural development by teaching Extension agents how to help women learn the best agricultural practices and apply them. In many developing countries, women, like the ones Colverson sees, have little to no access to agricultural Extension agents and services, an important information source for agricultural producers around the world.
Women’s contributions to agriculture are frequently constrained by lack of land ownership, lack of access to agricultural inputs, less labor availability and responsibilities related to child care and domestic work, she said.
The USAID project will also explore ways to expand gender equity through training and creating successful innovations that better address integrating gender issues into Extension services.
“It is most important to consider the multiple roles that women hold: they are wives, mothers, food producers, cooks and more, so it is critical that when you introduce a new technology you are not adding another responsibility to women’s already overburdened lifestyles,” Colverson said. “The question is, how can we introduce innovations that will reduce their burden, but not add a different burden, such as providing equipment that is too big, heavy, or dangerous?”
UF is part of a consortium led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that received the USAID grant. The University of California, Davis and the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Cultural Practice are also part of the group.
“This is an action-oriented program. We will be training people at all levels as well as conducting research on best practices for working with women farmers,” said Sandra Russo, the project’s principal investigator and program development director at the UF International Center.
While many current solutions to their problems include cellphone apps, Russo pointed out that many African women farmers are illiterate and have no electricity, let alone a cellphone.
“You have to look at what the situation is and get the information to the farmers and get agents to pay attention to female farmers,” she said. “This program aims to ultimately reduce poverty, improve food security and reduce malnutrition.”
Initially concentrating on four countries, possibly Zambia, Senegal, Mozambique, Kenya or Bangladesh, the team will work for 15 months and later revise the program if needed before adding four more countries.
By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Sandra Russo, 352- 273-1533, email@example.com
Kathleen Colverson, 352-273-7644, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Caption: An Ethiopian woman brings processed cow dung to market, which is sold as a fuel for fire. It is one of the many ways women farmers in developing countries make money. By Kathleen Colverson.